Two Island children perish in separate drowning tragedies

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin Island has been shocked and saddened by the news of two child drownings within a two-day period: a six-year-old boy on Sunday at Wikwemikong and a 20-month-old boy on Monday on South Bay in Assiginack.

The Wikwemikong incident took place at the King’s Bay beach (located at the end of Rabbit Island Road in the community) and although Wikwemikong Tribal Police could release few details following the incident, Constable Jamie Peltier of the Wikwemikong Police confirmed to The Expositor that Waaweyeseh Bell, son of Harvey Bell and Liz Shense Eshkibok-Biisinai, drowned at the bay at approximately 4 pm Sunday afternoon.

The 20-month-old child perished the next day, Monday, shortly after 8 pm. The Manitoulin Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police had few details to release early Tuesday morning, but a release from Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb indicates that the tragedy occurred during a beachfront family get-together.

The child was discovered in the water and was immediately removed to hospital where he was pronounced deceased.

The 20-month-old child’s name had not been released as of press time Tuesday as all family members had not yet been notified of the tragedy.

In the case of both the Wikwemikong Tribal Police and the Manitoulin Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, each police service is conducting research into the child drownings in their respective communities on behalf of the Chief Coroner’s office.

In the case of Waaweyeseh Bell, a medical examination was scheduled for Tuesday, July 24 at Health Science North’s Ramsey Lake site in Sudbury. The medical examination of the 20-month-old boy was scheduled for Wednesday, July 25 at the same location.

Witnesses were still being interviewed in both tragedies as of press time and Constable Peltier did note that no determination had yet been made of the events surrounding the Wikwemikong death. The constable did say that cardio pulmonary resuscitation did occur upon the six-year-old being pulled from the lake. The child was taken to the Little Current site of the Manitoulin Health Centre where he was pronounced dead.

There is a particularly sad note surrounding Waaweyeseh’s death as a Facebook page had invited friends and family to the boy’s sixth birthday party, which was to include cake and snacks at a family member’s home before heading to the King’s Bay beach for an afternoon of swimming.

The boy was a talented and enthusiastic powwow dancer.

“The police service always encourages parents to be vigilant when dealing with children and water,” Constable Peltier stressed. “Accidents can and do occur. This is not an isolated incident, as there have been numerous drownings throughout Ontario this summer.”

According to a CBC report, the federal minister responsible for public health said that she plans to push for mandatory swimming lessons in schools across the country. “What we want is this aspirational goal for Canada, that every kid should know how to swim like reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of State for Public Health. “We would hope they would have that skill by the time they leave public school.”

Fifty-eight people, including young Waaweyeseh and the 20-month-old boy have drowned in Ontario this year.

No details on funeral arrangements for either of the deceased children will be available until after their respective medical examinations have been completed.